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Piha beach looking south.

Piha Beach looking north.

Strategizing about how to see as much of New Zealand as possible in two months resulted in our decision to move more frequently than usual. We’re spending two weeks in each of four places, starting with Piha beach outside Auckland and moving south to the Wellington area. In December, we’ll be outside Christchurch and then near Dunedin as we try to see a bit of both islands.

Our travel to Auckland was vastly improved by flying business class. We left Los Angeles an hour late because the trip was going to be too fast! New Zealand officials are as particular about aviation as everything else. Planes have a 30 minute window to arrive, 15 min either side of their scheduled time. Apparently the airlines are fined for non-compliance, and we were scheduled to fly for only 12 hours, not the usual 13.

Business class was worth the cost because we were able to eat something and then sleep–that being a euphemism for lying down with one’s eyes shut, earplugs in, and blanket pulled up, hoping for oblivion that doesn’t actually arrive. I watched Mamma Mia 2 (terrible but fun), then made myself sleep until 6 am Auckland time. Jonathan did something similar (different movies).

We arrived in pretty good shape, got our car and found our house in Piha. To get there we crossed the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park. New Zealand’s cool, rainy weather produces incredibly dense, dark green vegetation that ranges from palm trees to pines and includes cycads. These look like a fern sitting on top of a palm trunk and they are the living descendants of plants that existed in the time of the dinosaurs, 200 million years ago.

Once across the hills, Piha is a beach community that consists of a strip of houses backed against the steep hillside, facing the ocean. Some are summer cottages, others dramatic contemporary homes. We have rented a beach cottage with broad glass windows facing the shore. It is a family home–lots of board games, puzzles and decks of cards.

Piha beach has a dramatic formation, Lion Rock, and a broad sandy beach that is popular for surfing. Between the two, the area appears in ads, TV shows and movies (The Piano was filmed nearby). Announcements of filming are circulated to residents and posted in the Piha Store, the only local business apart from the campground and surf school. I saw one that mentioned a one day ad shoot with a “small” crew of around 20 people. I hope they film something while we are here.